Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.
The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.
Press and Media Freedoms: The government sought to control virtually all information. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media. Independent media did not exist. The Propaganda and Agitation Department controls all media in the country. Within the department the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. The Associated Press (AP) operated an all-format news bureau in Pyongyang, but international AP reporters were not resident in country. Numerous media sources reported that Agence France-Presse inaugurated its Pyongyang bureau on Sept 6. Government officials deported a foreign British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and his team, who received an invitation to cover the Workers Party Congress in May, after the government reportedly took offense at their reports highlighting aspects of life in Pyongyang.
Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had little freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued to attempt to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts, and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.
Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the gatekeeper to the intranet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that some e-mail access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to e-mail accounts.
In June 2015 press reported that foreign visitors in Pyongyang began receiving mobile alerts when they attempted to access Instagram, a social media app. Some experts speculated the state blocked the app in response to leaked photos of a fire in a luxury hotel in Pyongyang shared online through the app. In April North Korea formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Foreign visitors reported Facebook and Twitter had been blocked for months prior to the announcement.
South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, a South Korean website that focuses on North Korean issues, said, “To date, more than 50 defectors residing in South Korea have had their personal computers attacked by North Korean hackers.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.
The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.
The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013.
Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, the independent consulting firm InterMedia estimated that as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors who were interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.
The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.
In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.
The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.
Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, for short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.
Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.
Emigration and Repatriation: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.
In September international press reported that China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in May 2015 stated that the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on the North Korean side of the Tumen River.
The South Korean press reported that the government issued orders for guards to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official sanction. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection, including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign diplomatic facility for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Individuals who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases the state subjects defectors or asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily for foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated that authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.
Past reports from defectors noted that the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for political purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.
The government subjected repatriated refugees to harsh punishments, including imprisonment. The government reportedly continued to enforce the policy that all border crossers be sent to prison or re-education centers.
On December 7, the ROK Unification Ministry said that the number of North Korean defectors coming to the ROK had increased 16.7 percent year-on-year, as more elites and overseas workers chose to flee their home country. According to the Unification Ministry, the total number of North Korean defectors resettled in the ROK exceeded 30,000. As of November, the number of North Koreans admitted during the year was expected to reach 1,400 by year’s end–the highest number since 2011. Observers attributed this increase to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror and toughened sanctions on the North. According to South Korean media reports, the National Intelligence Service disclosed in October 2015 to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly that 46 members of the North Korean elite fled from North Korea in the past three years.
According to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s second-highest diplomat at their embassy in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected to South Korea with his family in August. Media also widely reported that 13 North Korean restaurant workers defected from China to South Korea in April, one of the largest group defections in the past few years.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.